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Brendan Behan
Behan in 1960
Behan in 1960
Born Brendan Francis Aidan Behan
(1923-02-09)9 February 1923
Dublin, Ireland
Died 20 March 1964(1964-03-20) (aged 41)
Dublin, Ireland
Occupation Writer
Nationality Irish
Period 1942–1964
Genre Poet, novelist, playwright
Subject Irish republican struggle, often autobiographical
Notable works The Quare Fellow
The Hostage
Borstal Boy
Beatrice ffrench Salkeld
(m. 1955; his death 1963)
Children Blanaid Behan
Parents Stephen Behan (father)
Kathleen Behan (mother)
Relatives Dominic Behan (brother)
Brian Behan (brother)

Brendan Francis Aidan Behan (christened Francis Behan) ( BEE-ən; Irish: Breandán Ó Beacháin; 9 February 1923 – 20 March 1964) was an Irish poet, short story writer, novelist and playwright who wrote in both English and Irish. He was named by Irish Central as one of the greatest Irish writers of all time.

An Irish republican and a volunteer in the Irish Republican Army, Behan was born in Dublin into a staunchly republican family becoming a member of the IRA's youth organisation Fianna Éireann at the age of fourteen. There was also a strong emphasis on Irish history and culture in the home, which meant he was steeped in literature and patriotic ballads from an early age. Behan eventually joined the IRA at sixteen, which led to his serving time in a borstal youth prison in the United Kingdom and he was also imprisoned in Ireland. During this time, he took it upon himself to study and he became a fluent speaker of the Irish language. Subsequently released from prison as part of a general amnesty given by the Fianna Fáil government in 1946, Behan moved between homes in Dublin, Kerry and Connemara, and also resided in Paris for a time.

In 1954, Behan's first play The Quare Fellow, was produced in Dublin. It was well received; however, it was the 1956 production at Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop in Stratford, London, that gained Behan a wider reputation. This was helped by a famous drunken interview on BBC television with Malcolm Muggeridge. In 1958, Behan's play in the Irish language An Giall had its debut at Dublin's Damer Theatre. Later, The Hostage, Behan's English-language adaptation of An Giall, met with great success internationally. Behan's autobiographical novel, Borstal Boy, was published the same year and became a worldwide best-seller and by 1955, Behan had married Beatrice ffrench Salkeld, with whom he later had a daughter Blanaid Behan in 1963.

By the early 1960s, Behan reached the peak of his fame. He spent increasing amounts of time in New York City, famously declaring, "To America, my new found land: The man that hates you hates the human race." By this point, Behan began spending time with people including Harpo Marx and Arthur Miller and was followed by a young Bob Dylan. However, this newfound fame did nothing to aid his health or his work, with his alcoholism and diabetes medical conditions continuing to deteriorate: Brendan Behan's New York and Confessions of an Irish Rebel received little praise. He briefly attempted to combat this by a dry stretch while staying at Chelsea Hotel in New York, and in 1961 was admitted to Sunnyside Private Hospital, an institution for the treatment of alcoholism in Toronto, but he once again turned back to alcohol and relapsed back into active alcoholism.

Behan died on 20 March 1964 after collapsing at the Harbour Lights bar in Dublin. He was given a full IRA guard of honour, which escorted his coffin. It was described by several newspapers as the biggest Irish funeral of all time after those of Michael Collins and Charles Stewart Parnell.



  • The Quare Fellow (1954)
  • An Giall (The Hostage) (1958)
    • Behan wrote the play in Irish, and translated it to English.
  • Richard's Cork Leg (1972)
  • Moving Out (one-act play, commissioned for radio)
  • A Garden Party (one-act play, commissioned for radio)
  • The Big House (1957, one-act play, commissioned for radio)


  • Borstal Boy (1958)
  • Brendan Behan's Island (1962)
  • Hold Your Hour and Have Another (1963)
  • Brendan Behan's New York (1964)
  • Confessions of an Irish Rebel (1965)
  • The Scarperer (1963)
  • After The Wake: Twenty-One Prose Works Including Previously Unpublished Material (posthumous – 1981)


  • Brendan Behan Sings Irish Folksongs and Ballads Spoken Arts Records SAC760 (1985)'
  • "The Captains and the Kings"


  • Brendan Behan – A Life by Michael O'Sullivan
  • My Brother Brendan by Dominic Behan
  • Brendan Behan by Ulick O'Connor
  • The Brothers Behan by Brian Behan
  • With Brendan Behan by Peter Arthurs
  • The Crazy Life of Brendan Behan: The Rise and Fall of Dublin's Laughing Boy by Frank Gray
  • My Life with Brendan by Beatrice Behan
  • Brendan Behan, Man and Showman by Rae Jeffs

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